Netanyahu cabinet approves law allowing filming of voters at polling stations

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Netanyahu cabinet approves law allowing filming of voters at polling stations

Camera Law which critics claim is aimed at intimidating Arab communities, is being rushed through parliament despite warnings from Israel Attorney General

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem-JINIPIX
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem-JINIPIX

Israel’s caretaker cabinet led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved a law allowing thousands of right-wing activists to film voters at polling stations, just days before the country’s election.

The so-called Camera Law, which critics say is aimed at intimidating Arab communities, is now being rushed through the Knesset (parliament), despite Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and the Knesset’s own legal adviser saying it may be unconstitutional.

Analysts at the Israel Democracy Institute described it as “a misuse of political power from a transitional government” and “an unprecedented decision that adversely affects the status of the Attorney General”.

Chief among those pushing for cameras to be used has been Netanyahu’s Likud, which jointly topped the polls during the last country’s last election in April, winning the same number of seats as the Blue and White Party of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid.

During that election, more than 1,200 Likud supporters were found to be wearing hidden vest cameras to film in polling stations in Arab communities.

Likud alleged voter fraud, but Orly Aides, chief executive of Israel’s Central Elections Committee, which already monitors polling stations for fraud, including by using audio-visual recording, said it had only found five instances of voter fraud across the country, and only two of these had been in Arab areas.

Opponents said the Camera Law was designed to stop Arab Israelis from voting. In 2015, Arab turnout was 63 percent, but in April it dropped to 49 percent.

The IDI said: “The interference by elected officials with the right to vote and be elected during elections – a fundamental democratic right – creates unnecessary chaos and endangers the integrity of the elections, the freedom to vote without undue influence, and voter privacy.”

The Knesset’s legal advisor said the Bill gave “a very considerable advantage to one party” and “gave rise to real concern that voters would be deterred from voting”.

He added that changing elections laws just one week before elections, without this enjoying a broad consensus among political parties, was “unprecedented”.

Defending the law, Netanyahu said: “The integrity of elections is among the foundations of democracy. The best way to prevent fraud in the elections is to station cameras in every polling place and allow poll watchers from the rival parties to supervise each other.

“Reciprocal oversight of all the parties is the essence of transparency in a democracy and one of the most important foundations in upholding the rule of law.”

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